Ritalin, one of the trade names of the prescription stimulant methylphenidate, is a widely prescribed medication for controlling attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. The drug is also available under various trade names, including Concerta, Methylin, and Metadate.
Its misuse is a notably common issue among minors. Together with other prescription drugs, it is a leading cause for call ins at Dallas Drug Treatment Centers.
Methylphenidate is considered to be essential for helping people with ADHD achieve a decent quality of life. While it was first brought to market in 1957, it didn’t become widely prescribed for children until the 1990s. Thanks to better diagnostics for ADHD, prescriptions for Ritalin for this application grew steadily from the late 20th century onwards. Unfortunately, increasing the availability of any drug will tend to open up avenues for misuse.
As with similar amphetamine and methamphetamine class drugs, Ritalin has been regularly misused as a stimulant in the past few decades. While not a particularly strong drug, the demand is high enough that an illegal market for the drug exists, with it being sold under such street names as “smarties,” “skittles”, “vitamin R”, and “diet coke”, among many others.
Along with prescription amphetamines, Ritalin became a small part of the then-ongoing stimulant epidemic that lasted from the 1920s to roughly the 1970s. Ritalin was formerly prescribed for depression and low mood, an application for which we now have more effective classes of drugs.
Since it came to market in the 1950s, Ritalin and other comparable stimulants were widely used by students to help them focus. They also found a following among competitive athletes, truck drivers, and people working at odd hours.
While Ritalin is still prescribed today, in the vast majority of cases the intended use will be for controlling ADHD symptoms and narcolepsy. This is in contrast to older generations of stimulant drugs like benzedrine, which are rarely prescribed for any purpose today.
Because it is widely prescribed to children and teens, Ritalin is one of the most widely misused drugs among younger people. Children may be less responsible than older people at safeguarding their prescription drugs, and it’s not uncommon for young people to share their prescription medications with friends. The street name “kiddie coke” reflects this larger pattern of underage misuse.
College students are particularly at risk from misusing Ritalin, and about 20% of American college students have misused the drug at one point. Med school students, athletes, and interns are among the most likely to misuse the drug. Today, state and federal authorities have taken various steps to control the non-prescribed use of Ritalin, with varying degrees of success.
The most straightforward way to misuse Ritalin is to ingest more than the recommended dosage. People who are using Ritalin as a party drug will tend to take much larger doses than would be recommended for someone with ADHD or narcolepsy. Ritalin can also be crushed and snorted or dissolved in a liquid and injected for a much faster onset. Frequent use of the drug in this way can lead to a stimulant use disorder, where the individual is hooked on Ritalin or stimulant drugs in general.
Methylphenidate has been studied for decades and it’s generally agreed that its recommended use is safe, even in the long term. However, very high doses can create an effect on the brain similar to so-called harder stimulant drugs like cocaine or methamphetamines.
The drug works by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the hormone responsible for motivation and focus. People with ADHD have an overabundance of dopamine transporters, which reduces the amount of useable dopamine available to the brain. Methylphenidate blocks these transporters, which allows the levels of dopamine to rise to a level that allows the individual to focus.
However, on a person who does not have ADHD or narcolepsy, misusing methylphenidate can cause a number of unpleasant effects, including hallucinations, strokes, and heart palpitations, to name a few. Regular misuse can lead to long-term health effects similar to what would be expected in people with methamphetamine and cocaine use disorders.
Some negative long term health effects include the following:
As it is an essential drug for a very common disorder, it may be difficult to ensure that Ritalin does not get abused. Because a large percentage of the prescriptions for the drug are for young people, they are especially at risk of developing health complications should they develop a habit of misusing it.
If you believe that you or someone you love has a problem with Ritalin, our team at Dallas Drug Treatment Centers is ready to help. We can connect you with a wide selection of treatment programs throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as well as in the rest of North Texas. We also offer listings of outpatient and inpatient programs for teens, people with co-occurring mental health disorders, and other groups of people with special needs. Get in touch today to discuss your treatment options.